Bernice Anna Ellis, age 98, died at her Glenwood Ave. home in Mankato on Oct. 22, 2017, a home she had lived in since Feb. 1, 1945. She was born on a farm near Verdi, MN, Lincoln County, to Frank and Anna (Rutzen) Theel on May 25, 1919. In 1924, her parents moved to a small farm at the edge of Wasioja, MN, Dodge Co., and a few years later to a 75 acre farm adjoining the Wasioja Cemetery, three quarters of a mile from town. There was no phone, electricity nor indoor plumbing. Roads were plowed in winter only when a burial was needed at the cemetery. Bernice either walked or traveled with a horse to a two room grade school in Wasioja and later to high school in Mantorville, MN. The Theel farm had cows, horses and chickens. The family sold milk, butter and thousands of quarts of strawberries.
Bernice moved to Mankato, MN following her high school graduation. She abandoned dreams of becoming a teacher because schools didn't allow teaching students to work while attending classes. She was able to work while taking bookkeeping classes at Mankato Commercial College. She found employment at both the John Deere Co. and the Motor Service Co. a filling station.
She met and later married Paul Ellis on Sept. 17, 1940. Their first child was born in 1942. Six more would follow. The couple purchased their first car in 1951, eleven years after they married. Bernice got her first automatic washer in the early 1960's, three to four years after the birth of her last- born. During years when many women stayed home to raise their children, Bernice worked outside the home in order to help support her growing family. She worked as a bookkeeper, retail store clerk, waitress, and office manager. At home, she canned hundreds of quarts of fruits and vegetables, hung diapers and clothing on the lines to dry and cooked hundreds of meals. She seldom missed a church service. At all times, she honored her parents and welcomed the company of her siblings.
Seven children were raised in the house on Glenwood Ave. Bernice was a strict mother who raised her children to respect their elders. She passed on to them her own, strong work ethic. She was tender, compassionate and giving. She was proud and at times, unbending. She was fiercely independent. She had many good friends and she returned their friendships. She was ever so frugal.
Her interests were many and varied. She was an accomplished bowler who still league-bowled into her mid 90's. In 2013 at the age of 94, Bernice was featured in the Mankato Free Press and on TV after she bowled a 187 game. She was legally blind at the time. She played cards with loving friends over many years. She was a thrift store volunteer for 20 years. Children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, relatives and friends were always welcome in her small home. Good, home-cooked food was plentiful. She was an expert at "making room". She was extremely active in church activities since childhood. She served on church committees and women's groups, did volunteer bookkeeping and attended hundreds of Sunday School, confirmation and church services. Her current membership was in the Resurrection Lutheran Church in Mankato. She quilted, journaled, wrote letters and made albums of photographs for her children. Her work and accomplishments seemed unending.
Following the 1983 death of her husband, Paul, Bernice put a small camper on a leased lot at Clark's Bay on Lake Francis where the family had vacationed nearly every summer for some 40 years. She spent much time at her camper, sharing memories with long-time lake-friends. She became, for several years, something of a nomad. She purchased vans and even a small motor home and traveled, alone, throughout the U.S. Her travels and visits were sometimes "unannounced." In 1987, she totaled her motor home after dark on a muddy, dirt road in a very isolated area in Montana. She escaped the vehicle by kicking out the cracked windshield. She then hiked five miles along the road until she found a ranch home where she was taken in for the night. On another trip, she hit a buffalo while driving through Yellowstone Park, also after dark. She was fined for failing to report the accident at the time it occurred. Failing eyesight due to macular degeneration sadly brought an end to her travels and driving. Never a reader, she discovered she enjoyed listening to audio books.
This complex, loving, independent woman is survived by all seven of her also-independent children: Carol Gordon (w), Albert Lea, MN; Jerry (Sally) Nampa, ID; John (Suzanne Swanson) St. Paul, MN; Mary (David Ellis-Hollenhorst) Elysian, MN; Patty Ament (Steve Jensen) Pepin, WI; Gail Langsjoen (w), Mankato, MN and Michael, Mankato, MN. Michael has been a primary care giver for Bernice with much help from Mary and Gail over the past several years. Bernice is also survived by 21 grandchildren: Patrick, Derek, Hans, Shannon, Kyle, Levi, Rachael, Asa, Adam, Traci, Jesse, Anna, Alex, Sarah, Lisa, Zillah, Samson, Solomon (David), Anna, Philip, Jeremiah, and Dinah. Bernice is survived by 28 great grandchildren: Matthew, Natalie, Amanda, Emma, Lilly, D.J., Hannah, Dean, Jaeda, Lars, Rhetta, Jude, Elijah, Valentina, Matteo, Maya, Jessica, Sophia, Miranda, Juliet, Noah, Sierra, Helena, Maya, Bennet, Nation, Hugo and Torin. One sister, Elaine Costello (John) of Fresno, CA. survives.
Bernice is preceded in death by her parents, Frank and Anna Theel, her husband, Paul Ellis, two brothers, Elmer and Clarence, one sister, Betty (Ferrin), a grandchild, Rachael Ament, two sons-in-law, Pat Gordon and Thor Langsjoen and many other loving relatives and friends.
Mom, thank you for the awesome memories. You are already missed. Our love remains.
A memorial will be given to a children's bowling program in Bernice's name.
Funeral services will be 11:00 am Saturday, October 28, 2017 at Resurrection Lutheran Church in Mankato. Visitation will be one hour before services at the church. Burial will be at Woodland Hills Memorial Park. Woodland Hills Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements.
Published on October 25, 2017